Thursday, 31 October 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Remakes of classic horror and science fiction films tend on the whole to be pretty poor. There are, of course, some notable exceptions. Hammer revitalised the horror genre in the late 1950s with its new take on the gothic, and the 1980s gave us John Carpenter’s THE THING and David Cronenberg’s THE FLY, both of which did their own thing with the original source material, and did it superbly.
Another SF remake that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Cronenberg’s and Carpenter’s very fine films is Phil Kaufman’s 1978 remake / updating / reimagining of Don Siegel's 1957 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman’s movie is just about to be re-released on Blu-ray by Arrow Films in a handsome steelbook edition with a wealth of extras, both old and new, and most, if not all of these, have not been seen in previous UK editions of the film.
On a distant, dying planet (which has never looked better on the Blu-ray) alien spores collect and drift into space on ‘solar winds’. Landing in San Francisco they attach themselves to the local flora and merge with it to produce cute little pink flowers with pods. However, the intentions of these organisms is anything but friendly. Leave one on your lover’s bedside table overnight and the chances are he’ll be a changed man come the morning. When public health scientist Brooke Adams’ husband Art Hindle starts behaving oddly, she confides in colleague Donald Sutherland, who has also started to notice cases of strange behaviour as well. It turns out to be the fault of those pesky pods, that have a habit of turning huge and replicating whichever sleeping human they happen to have been placed next to in their bid to take over the planet.
Don Siegel’s 1957 original kept everything small town and features a prologue and epilogue designed to make audiences feel more comfortable when they left the cinema. Kaufman’s remake transplants the story to the big city and offers no such get out clause. It’s a sober, thoughtful, well-acted and extremely well written movie. Jack Finney’s source novel is excellent, and the original film managed to stick fairly closely to Finney's plot. For the remake, screenwriter W D Richter essentially took the core idea of the book and fashioned an entirely different storyline, reacting to social attitudes of the time. Phil Kaufman’s direction is frequently clever without being flashy - there are lots of dialogue scenes where we only see characters as silhouettes or reflections, and as the future of mankind looks increasingly bleak the movie itself gets literally darker and darker. The music and sound design is something special as well, and it’s hard not to imagine Howard Shore listening to what Denny Zeitlin was doing here and gaining inspiration for his subsequent work with David Cronenberg. In fact there’s quite a Cronenberg feel to the film overall - buildings and concourses are 1970s-sterile, and the people contained within act as if they’ve been infected with a numbing virus. Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a classic, just as worthy of the name as the movie that preceded it, and deserving of a place in any fan’s collection of all-time great science fiction films.
Arrow’s Blu-ray offers a nice transfer of the film. Because of its late 1970s origins there’s a fair amount of grain, which does become a little excessive during some of the night shots, mainly because the image is (intentionally) so dark. 
Extras are plentiful. First of all, everything from the MGM 2007 Region 1 Collector’s Edition of the movie have been ported over, including Phil Kaufman’s commentary and four featurettes featuring interviews with Kaufman, writer WD Richter, star Donald Sutherland and others. Arrow’s Blu-ray also has three new featurettes. Discussing the Pod features critic Kim Newman in conversation with directors Ben Wheatley and Norman J Warren talking about various aspects of the film. Dissecting the Pod is a talking head piece from Phil Kaufman expert and lecturer  Annette Insdorf, and Writing the Pod is another similar featurette in which Jack Seabrook discusses the life and career of Jack Finney.
Once again Arrow Films are to be congratulated. This is the best and most extra-packed version of Phil Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS to have ever been released. Grab it while you can.

Arrow Films will be releasing Phil Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS in both steelbook and standard issue Blu-ray formats on 18th November 2013.

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